Jamie Cameron's Webmin

This comprehensive management system for your Linux, Unix and OS/X systems costs zippo. Nada. Nuthin! That's good reason to give it a try.

June 9, 2003

3 Min Read
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I installed Webmin from an RPM (Red Hat Package Manager), but you can also download a gzip'd tar file distribution. Webmin is a pure Perl application and requires at least Perl 5. Although default access is to root only, you can configure additional users and groups from the console.

A lengthy list of modules is included in the distribution, and you can begin managing systems immediately (see module list). Some modules, such as MySQL, are likely to require a bit of configuration to provide full access to management functions. But most system modules will be fully manageable out of the box. To enable full management of MySQL, it was only necessary to modify the login configuration. From that point on, I could perform queries as well as modify databases, tables and rows from Webmin. You can download new management modules or develop your own via the available API for custom applications.

With Webmin's user and group management, you can securely administer modules to specified groups and/or users. Users can be isolated as Webmin users only or they can be associated with Unix/Linux users and synchronized between Webmin and the underlying operating system. Webmin's authentication and authorization mechanism is flexible and takes advantage of PAM (pluggable authentication modules).

Some of the modules contain administration functions, such as file system back up and restore and complete BIND management, and I found them extremely useful. The only downside to the BIND management module is that you're still editing the core BIND files by hand. Basic configuration options and some advanced features, such as migrating a slave to a master, are available. But for basic modifications to the records, you're in text-edit mode using a standard HTML textbox. This is true of most modules when configuration files are involved.You can manage multiple servers from a single browser window by either allowing Webmin to broadcast its presence and listen for replies from other installations or by registering additional servers manually. I chose the latter and, moments later, was managing the second server from the original Webmin installation. This is a breeze if your authentication is synchronized and a checkbox permits Webmin to propagate credentials when accessing alternate servers.

A Java applet provides telnet access to the currently managed machine via the browser as well as via SSH v2. Forgot to start the SSH daemon? No problem. You can configure services, including those managed from xinetd, and then restart the daemon to provide access.

Complete process and file management is available via Webmin. See a process running that shouldn't be? You can kill it with the click of a button. Need to peek at a file on the server? The Java-applet-based FileManager not only lets you read the file, but also provides comprehensive file-system management. The applets performed as expected from both Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 2000 and Galeon on Red Hat 9. The UI appeared identical regardless of the platform and browser combination--a pleasant surprise in these days of "thin but restricted" computing. The documentation is extensive, although it consists mainly of HTML-ized man pages and there is no validation performed on configuration changes. If you mess it up, you mess it up, just like you would on the command line.

While there are some aspects of the product that definitely could be improved, especially the editing of configuration files, Webmin overall is a comprehensive management system for your Linux, Unix and OS/X systems. With a price tag of free--as in beer--it's definitely worth a test drive.

Lori MacVittie is a technology editor working out of our Green Bay, Wis., labs. Write to her at [email protected].Post a comment or question on this story.

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